Writing (Un)Awkward Sex Scenes: A How-To Guide with @JennieNash

**Warning – adult situations and language and potential spoilers for the novel Wheeler, now available on Amazon Kindle.**

I’ve been hesitant to give Wheeler to friends and family or even tell my coworkers I wrote a novel. Why? Like the protagonist, Loren Mackenzie, I only let people see what I want them to see. I keep my cards close to the vest. I’m a Scorpio, it’s who I am.

But, in very unScorpio fashion, I can’t write or talk about sex without blushing and I stumble over my words. I’m a visual thinker, meaning I can see what I want to describe in my mind clearly, like a photograph. While I don’t have an eidetic memory (I wish!), I can envision what something looks like or how a person moves and fairly accurately describe it. That includes sex.

Jennie Nash wrote a great article for the HuffPost blog called, 7 Rules for Writing Sex Scenes. She says, ‘Sex scenes are very difficult to write because everything else is stripped away and all you’ve got to work with are the characters and the emotions. There’s nowhere to hide. But that’s also what makes them so powerful.’

I couldn’t agree more, Jennie.

Set the Stage for Doing Good Work. There is nowhere to hide, in your head or in the place that you write. I write in my dining room/office, between 9pm and 2am most nights. It’s often the only time I am completely alone, other than my cats. My spouse and child are asleep and I can sit quietly and focus and listen to my Pandora station of post-rock music. Music can inspire, especially sappy love songs.

Focus on Dialogue. Do other people talk during sex? Uh, well, I don’t, really. (Is it hot in here?) With Loren and Graham’s first time, I wrote in a little more nervous excitement for her. For Graham, he has a sensuality to him already, and perhaps I wrote him a little over-the-top romantic. But that’s okay; it works for the character’s type. He’s not your typical leading man. While he’s tall, he doesn’t have the muscles of Chris Evans or Chris Pratt. Think Colin Firth+David Tennant+Tom Hiddleston+Patrick Stewart = Graham Atherton.

Which leads to Characters Stay in Character and Watch the Tone. Graham is an actor and actors emote. Some could say manipulate, but I digress. He has a love of Shakespeare and uses the bard’s words to woo the lovely Loren. Nobody would have guessed – least of all those closest to her (and possibly herself) – that she was such a romantic. Same with speaking French. Somehow it works for them and sets the tone for the characters throughout the story.

Consider the difference between the internal and external action. I’ll be honest and admit I thought about scenes I’ve seen in films or read in books (and some of my own experiences) and envisioned every single action and reaction. While I thought I had created some viable scenes, one of my Alpha readers, Debbie, said, “The build-up was great, loved that, but then you only come at me with a sentence and expect to finish it off? I’d be disappointed.”

After I got up off the floor from laughing, I began anew with more blushing and ear burning as I rewrote every single sex scene in my novel. There aren’t many, mind you, but heaven forbid they do it the same way twice. I had to come up with different situations. Should they have oral? OMG Do I really have to write that? HOW do I write that? (Shudder)

Which leads to Remember, they’re just words. I’m new to writing and I find it very hard to separate myself from the feels and step out of the scene. Outside of the sex, there are scenes that are deeply emotional. I get snappy when interrupted because I am left feeling raw and exposed. It sucks even more because I know I’m reacting that way but I can’t stop it.

There is a pivotal scene in Wheeler which in the draft had been called ‘Bad Felix’. Suffice it to say, this chapter was difficult, both the subject matter and that I had to experience the character’s reactions and feelings, from all sides, not just those initially involved.

Why, then, did I put it in there? In his mind, Loren was his possession and if he couldn’t have her, he was going to make sure no other man would want her. I didn’t see another way, other than for Loren to die and I wasn’t going to go that route. Felix doesn’t ‘win’, but neither does Loren and the situation makes her life harder, as her resulting injuries have consequences nobody could have guessed.

My intention has always been to write true-to-life characters and situations as best I could. Real people laugh and cry, flirt and kiss, yell and argue, dance and sing. They love and they have sex. There’s no way to get around it.

Which brings me to Jennie’s last comment: Prepare for the inevitable confrontation. Meaning, at some point, someone will ask about what I wrote. Can I talk about sex without wanting to run and hide? Yes, but my cheeks will be bright pink and I might not be able to look the person in the eye ever again.

If you get a kick out of my writing, follow me either here or on Twitter. Keep in touch. Ask questions. Make comments. I’m a nice person, or so my mom says. 😉

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